By Caley Ramsay, Global News.
Premier Rachel Notley said Fort McMurray-area residents will be allowed to return home on a voluntary, phased basis starting June 1, as long as the five conditions identified for safe re-entry are met.
Notley said the return should be completed by June 15 and will happen in phases, to allow for efficient traffic flow along Highway 63.
“This re-entry plan is voluntary,” Notley said. “We anticipate that many people will not return as early as June 1 and we will support them in that decision.”
Those who live in the least-damaged areas of the region will be allowed to return home first. Notley outlined the dates and communities as follows:
- June 1 – Lower townsite, Anzac and First Nations communities
- June 2 – North Fort McMurray, including Timberlea and Thickwood
- June 3 – South Fort McMurray, including Gregoire, Saline Creek
- June 4- Abasand, Beacon Hill and Saprae Creek
The five conditions identified by the Alberta government are as follows:
- The wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community;
- Critical infrastructure is restored;
- Essential services are restored;
- Hazardous areas are secured;
- Local government is re-established.
Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Brian Jean, who lost his home in the fire, said it was a relief to hear a timeline for his constituents’ return but echoed the premier’s sentiments that safety must remain the number one priority going forward.
“I know and understand that the people of Fort McMurray, my family, my friends, are going through a lot of anxiety,” Jean said.
“They are tired, stressed and waiting to hear this news, and I thank the premier for it.”
Jean said he is “fiercely proud” of Fort McMurray and all Albertans, adding he will do everything he can to ensure the community is rebuilt.
“We will rebuild our city better that it’s ever been before and I will stand beside you every step of the way,” he said, holding back tears.
“I will have my tool belt on and my shovel in my hand and we will clean it up and rebuild it.”
The announcement comes one day after Notley said the government would have to give the re-entry plan a second look after two explosions in Fort McMurray neighbourhoods Monday night.
On Tuesday afternoon, Notley said gas had successfully been restored to about 60 per cent of the community. Electricity service has been restored to most of the undamaged areas of Fort McMurray, and to all areas of Anzac and the Fort McMurray First Nation.
Structural damage assessments were set to be completed Tuesday afternoon. About 89 per cent of structures inspected have been deemed safe to occupy. Ten per cent of structures have been destroyed and about one per cent needed a closer look, Notley explained.
However, restoration work in the community has been hampered in the past few days due to extremely poor air quality.
It’s been more than two weeks since more than 80,000 Fort McMurray-area residents were forced from their homes. Many have spent the past two weeks wondering when they might be able to return home.
As of Wednesday morning, the Fort McMurray wildfire – previously dubbed “the beast” – covered about 423,000 hectares.